Could there be a feeling less useful than guilt? I think not. It is a common response set that serves no one. Feeling guilty can take the place of doing something constructive, as it absorbs a lot of energy that could instead be put to good use. Some see guilt as a cop-out. If you really feel bad about something, far better to get busy understanding why you did it, and then take thoughtful steps to set things right if you can. If you can’t set it right, then own it, apologise sincerely, and make sure you do what needs to be done to prevent it from ever happening again.

Sometimes guilt indicates you are having difficulty differentiating yourself in a relationship enough to openly disagree with or disappoint another person. Your mother wants you to call her every day. You don’t want to, but instead of working to set boundaries you feel more comfortable with, you just avoid her and feel guilty. Having the courage to assert ourselves effectively in relationships takes some doing. We get confused about when it is right to prioritise our own needs and preferences, and when we should bow to the needs and preferences of the other. Finding a way to have difficult conversations about these things can be very freeing. It is crucial to understand you are not always going to get agreement or permission from others to be yourself. Pleasing others is not the reason you are here. You can’t grow across the life span and be true to yourself without disappointing others along the way.

If there are things you persistently feel guilty about, or relationships in which guilt plays an important role and controls your behaviour, our therapists can work to expand your understanding of these feelings. This understanding can open a path of letting go of the guilt and standing by your own choices. Taking responsibility for your choices in an open and non-defensive way is the opposite of guilt. And while it may not make the other person immediately happy, at least it provide you the satisfaction of having done what you discerned to be the better choice, with the courage to state it as such. This, in the long run, makes you more trustworthy, and more available for honest, close relationships.